Maurice Harkless and his struggles: 'I feel like I'm just out there'

Maurice Harkless and his struggles: 'I feel like I'm just out there'

PHILADELPHIA – A growing question inside the Trail Blazers’ early season has been the noticeable drop off in production from Maurice Harkless.

The Blazers’ starting small forward is not scoring. He’s not rebounding. He’s not producing much of anything these days

“I just feel like I’m just out there to be out there … I don’t know,’’ Harkless said Wednesday after he had 1 point, zero rebounds, zero assists and zero blocks or steals in the Blazers’ 101-81 loss in Philadelphia.

Harkless has never been a player whose value is best measured by statistics. He is primarily a defender, whose value is enhanced by his ability to switch and guard anyone from forwards to guards on pick-and-rolls.

But in Portland he has also been able to make an impact on offense by getting out in transition, scoring off offensive rebounds, and making quick cuts to the basket.

But little, if any, of those things are happening lately.

“I’m just out there, and that’s frustrating,’’ Harkless said. “I’m just out there playing defense, which is cool … running back and forth. Out there running track.’’

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Coach Terry Stotts last week described Harkless’ defense this season as “solid … like the rest of the team” but his non-descript play begs the question of how much longer Stotts can afford to start Harkless when the team’s offensive woes are so prevalent?

I asked Stotts that exact question after Wednesday’s loss and received a blank stare. In other words, he didn’t want to address it.

Harkless, for his part, says he wants to contribute more, but is not sure how he can in this offense.

“We gotta figure out ways … not only me, but ways to get other people going,’’ Harkless said. “Every game it’s the same thing … we play through three people.’’

Harkless was referring to guards Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum and center Jusuf Nurkic, who have combined to take 57 percent of the team’s shots this season, which is about on par with what other talented trio take (Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook/Paul George/Carmelo Anthony take 60 percent of the Thunder’s shots while Golden State sees 55 percent of its shots go through Steph Curry/Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson).

 That leaves the likes of Harkless, Evan Turner, Pat Connaughton, Shabazz Napier and Noah Vonleh, to “get in where you fit in” to steal a phrase from Harkless.

“Everybody else is just …. It’s hard to get into a rhythm,’’ Harkless said. “It’s that simple.’’

To be clear, Harkless wasn’t whining, and he wasn’t trying to throw shade on teammates. He was being asked uncomfortable questions about his lack of production and he was trying to give explanations in the most professional and honest way.

“I’m not concerned … I don’t know. We just have to figure something out,’’ Harkless said.

In the last three games, Harkless’ impact has been minimal. Before his quiet night in Philadelphia, he had three blocks and scored two key inside baskets in the third quarter of a win at Memphis, which was the highlight of a 4-point, 4-rebound performance. The game before against Sacramento, he didn’t attempt a shot and finished with zero points, one rebound and two assists in 19 minutes.

Last season, he averaged a career-best 10 points and 4.4 rebounds while shooting 50 percent from the field and 35 percent from three-point range. This year, he is averaging 5.9 points and 3.8 rebounds while shooting 40.6 percent from the field and 24.2 percent from three-point range.

It’s not like this has been a sudden development. Since a sterling debut, when his defense was one of the big talking points of the season-opening win in Phoenix, he has drifted into anonymity. He and I have had a couple talks along the way, addressing and analyzing where he is, and where he fits.

“It gets frustrating at times,’’ Harkless said after the Orlando game on Nov. 15. “I feel like I could bring more to the team. Especially on the offensive end. It just is what it is. The way we are playing right now, it’s just my role right now.

“I’m not going to try and go over the coaches head, or something like that, or complain. I feel like we are playing pretty solid right now, so I just have to do what I can do to help us win. When the shots come, I have to knock them down, and that’s it. I just have to make the most of it.’’

Part of the puzzle in unlocking Harkless is it takes other players to get him going. He rarely has the ball in his hands, and he has to score either on spot-up three’s or while slashing to the basket, both of which require somebody to make a play for him.

“It’s not like, I’m Evan (Turner) - when he comes in the game, he has the ball in his hands and he can shoot whenever he wants to,’’ Harkless said. “I’m pretty much in a position where I’m just waiting around and you have to pass me the ball. A lot of times I’m open and guys may miss me or I make a cut and they miss me. I just have to keep playing, I can’t worry about that stuff.’’

Last season, through the first 18 games Harkless was averaging 10 shots a game. This season, he is averaging 5.6. The difference, of course, is the Blazers now have Jusuf Nurkic.

Instead of Lillard and CJ and a supporting cast, the offense has become the big three and shots have dried up. Perhaps, too, has the movement, as more players know they aren’t likely to be involved.

Lillard, for one, says he tries to remain cognizant of the role players like Harkless, and keep them involved in the offense.

“If you want a guy to go out and rebound and defend and play as active as we want Moe to, you have to give him an opportunity to touch the ball and be involved with it,’’ Lillard said last week. “So I’m always conscious of who hasn’t gotten a shot, who is involved and who hasn’t been involved.’’

Stotts has often tried to start games by running a play for Harkless. And in the Denver game – a game in which Harkless got just two shots – the team turned the ball over twice early trying to get him the ball.

“His shot attempts are a product of the game,’’ Stotts explained, noting he is a player who excels in transition and scoring off rebounds. “And some of it is him looking to take advantage of the opportunities that are out there.’’

So, as the Blazers (10-8) try to gain traction offensively this season, Harkless is trying to figure out how and where he can help. It has been a frustrating endeavor because he understands and accepts his role, but also wants to, and knows he can, help more than he has so far.

“A lot of the things I do don’t show up on the stat sheet, that’s a part of the game we need and I know that’s a part of my role on this team is to do those things, ‘’ Harkless said last week. “But at the same time, I obviously want to produce a little more and get more opportunity to produce. So, I feel like a lot of that I create on my own, whether that be offensive rebounds or whatever. You look at last year, I averaged 10-11 points but a lot of it came from offensive rebounds and transition and stuff like that, and that’s stuff I create on my own.

“It’s frustrating playing and getting only two shots and the game and the game I did get 11 shots (Brooklyn), I made three. So it’s a little frustrating, but I just have to keep going and be ready for when the opportunity comes. It’s been hard with the inconsistency, but it’s part of the game, and it’s just the situation I’m in right now, and I just have to continue make the most of my situation.’’

Trail Blazers head to OKC, where Damian Lillard's tap of the wrist all began

Trail Blazers head to OKC, where Damian Lillard's tap of the wrist all began

December 23rd, 2014 -- The Trail Blazers were wrapping up a four-game road trip with the final stop in Oklahoma City.

It was a showdown between Western Conference point guards in Portland's Damian Lillard and Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook, just like it is today.

Lillard came out on top.

He finished with 40 points and hit a game tying 3-pointer with three seconds left in regulation as the Trail Blazers rallied back to beat the Thunder 115-111 in overtime.

It was in that moment, after that three-pointer at the end of regulation to force overtime, when “Lillard Time” was officially born.

The Trail Blazers had just taken a full timeout with five seconds remaining in the game. Steve Blake was set to inbound the ball. Blake found Lillard without a Thunder player tailing him, curling off a screen at the top of the key. Lillard rose up, fell away, and drained the three.

And then, the now iconic celebration made its debut with a tapping of the wrist.

“That was just me pointing to the watch. That was "Lillard Time." That was the first time anybody seen that. I was just feeling myself a little bit at the moment,” Lillard said, grinning ear to ear, immediately after that victory in OKC.

The Trail Blazers starting point guard went 8-of-12 from 3-point range in the win. He added seven points in the extra period.

With that victory, Portland had won 11 of their past 14 road games.

Fast-forward five-plus years, and now the Blazers battle against the Thunder in their best of seven series in the First Round of the 2019 NBA Playoffs.

This week, Lillard recalled the inception of “Lillard Time.” He remembers it all very well. 

“On that road trip, coach was like if we win three out of those four, or something like that, then we could go home for Christmas break and I wanted to go home,” Lillard chuckled.

“Before that [game] I remember like [Trail Blazers TV broadcaster] Mike Rice and those guys, kept saying “Lillard Time,” and then the fans picked up on it, and then I don’t know, after I made that shot I just like pointed to my wrist,” Lillard said.

Lillard also said in that moment it all happened so quickly and the decision to tap the wrist, “was just on the spot.”

The use of hashtags -- #LillardTime and #DameTime, along with the use of emoji watches can been all over social media on any given game night.

The Blazers fan base always knows what time it is…

But what does “Lillard Time” mean to the one who has earned that phrase?

“I think it just says something about my ability to come up big,” Lillard said. “I’ve had many failures late in games where I’ve missed a game winning shot, I missed a shot that could tie the game and then they make free throws to separate them by four, I’ve missed a free throw late and the other team hit a three to force overtime. I’ve had those experiences, too.”

Lillard emphasized having a clutch shot go down is, of course, not always a guarantee.

“I think “Lillard Time” just says how I’ve been able to come up big a lot of times even though I’ve not been able to do it every time, but more times than not I’m able to come up big regardless of what type of game I’m having. Whether I’m hot for the whole game, or whether I’ve been cold. I’ve had it in both situations,” Lillard said.

“Lillard Time” has also evolved over the years.

Nobody would know more about the evolution of “Lillard Time” than Lillard’s teammate Meyers Leonard, who entered the league at the same time.

“He can hit deep threes, he can come downhill and find the weak side pass of the guy rolling to the rim. His game has really evolved… He’s obviously going to take over the game and score, but he’s also, I feel, continuing to develop and keep his teammates involved,” Leonard said.

Leonard says he remembers that game tying three-pointer in OKC very well.

He also knows Lillard has earned the right to that very memorable phrase.

“Dame has the ability to take over a game because of his level of confidence, aggressiveness, understanding of the flow of the game, and also the work he puts in,” Leonard said. 

To Lillard’s teammates, “Lillard Time” means much more than a clutch shot or big time assist.

“Lillard Time is the explosive scoring and the ‘Logo Three’ and all of these things, but the fact that he has the recognition to know what Moe [Harkless] and [Al-Farouq Aminu] and other guys do on a nightly basis that don’t always show up on the stat sheet, that’s huge, that’s leadership,” Leonard said.

“Lillard Time, to me… It’s his leadership, it’s his qualities that really stand out,” Leonard added.

So, whether you call it “Lillard Time” or “Dame Time,” or you just simply enjoy watching Damian Lillard come up with clutch shots time and time again, the memory of the very first wrist tap is on the brain, as Lillard and company head to OKC for Games 3 and 4, back to where it all began.

The story of “Lillard Time” continues…

Damian Lillard's defense at the center of the Blazers 2-0 series lead

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Damian Lillard's defense at the center of the Blazers 2-0 series lead

The image that sticks is Raymond Felton, hopelessly twisted, flailing as Damian Lillard steps back into cresting three-pointer that beats the third quarter buzzer as the Moda Center erupts.

If not that, it’s the 30-footer Lillard unleashed mid-way through the third period that led to an immediate timeout and prompted the Blazers point guard to flap his wrists high-above his head, a signal that he later explained meant “let it fly.”

But before the flapping, and before walking into a 30-foot, there was a subtler moment that truly explains this series and should define Game 2. It came on the defensive end and was accompanied by an uncommon show of emotion. 

Lillard and the Blazers seized a 2-0 lead in their first round series against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday night. The three-pointers will dominate the highlight reels, but Portland earned this win with defense, and Lillard’s effort on that end of the floor was at the center of it.

“You know, I really don’t have a choice but to embrace it,” Lillard said. “That team is going to go as far as (Russell Westbrook) and Paul George. We could try to score points and do all that stuff, but if we don’t defend them and they come out there believing and they come after us, we don’t have much of a chance. So our minds are made up that we’re going to take that challenge. Our season is on the line so that’s probably why it looks different than it might look any other time.”

The Blazers have been solid on defense as a group. Moe Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu have tracked George all over the floor and Rodney Hood and Evan Turner have had their own impressive moments on the defensive end. But Lillard’s individual defense has been key to Portland’s two wins to open the series even as the team has collectively swarmed and harassed the two Thunder stars. 

It’s clear Lillard is relishing the challenge of defending Westbrook, as part of a rivalry that has grown sharper teeth this season.

“I mean the proof is in the pudding,” Evan Turner said of Lillard. ”I think he doesn’t really get enough credit for the type of defender he is.”

Westbrook finished Game 2 with 14 points on 5-for-20 shooting, he dished 11 assists but also coughed up six turnovers. Lillard was up for the challenge all night, hounding him on the perimeter and funneling Westbrook towards waiting teammates when he attacked. 

It wasn’t long ago that Lillard would have spent most of a night like Game 2 shading Terrance Ferguson, a lesser offensive player that would have allowed the Blazers hide their star player on defense. But Lillard has slowly evolved on the defensive end, growing from liability to the player that emerged Tuesday evening when he grabbed three steals, blocked two shots and embraced the challenge of guarding an All-Star.

Lillard said that his defensive growth is a natural part of playing seven seasons in the league. But it was also fueled by the criticism Lillard often heard early in his career. So Lillard made a commitment to becoming a better defender, spending hours poring over film and working with Blazers assistant coach David Vanterpool, a dedication that took particular root in the summer of 2017 and has only grown since.

“I’ve always had the effort. I’ve always cared about it and now I’m a few years deeper into the league and I recognize stuff faster,” Lillard said. “I know what’s coming. I know what guys like to do. I’m not watching film to see highlights of myself. I’m watching film to (see) how can I take advantage of the other team? How can I give myself a chance to play better against the other team? And a lot of that is defensively, going over stuff with Coach Vanterpool. And then going out there and taking the challenge, not backing down. I think the last few seasons I’ve been much better defensively. It hasn’t been just one game or nothing like that. I’ve been taking the challenge and I’ve been much smarter about it.”

The Blazers blew the game open in the third quarter, pushing a halftime tie to a 16 point advantage heading into the fourth. In that stretch you could see how much the defensive stops meant to Lillard. 

Midway through the third quarter when Westbrook attacked the paint, Lillard slapped the ball out of his hands cleanly as he tried to rise up near the foul line. The ball was only loose for an instant and Westbrook quickly gathered himself and rose up for a left wing three-pointer.

When he it clanged off the rim, Lillard flexed and emphatically clapped following the hard earned defensive stop. Then he calmly dribbled across mid-court and rose up from 30-feet, drilling the shot over Westbrook. 

The image that sticks is the wrist flapping that followed. But rewind a few frames and you see the defining moment of the game, an improving defender embracing the toughest challenge on the biggest stage. 

Like Lillard said, with the season on the line everything looks different. 

OKC has the Thunder but Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are raining threes

OKC has the Thunder but Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are raining threes

When Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are on their games and making shots on the same night, if you happen to be unlucky enough to be on the other side, you might as well pack up your gear, warm the bus up and head back to the hotel.

Game over.

It happened to the Oklahoma City Thunder Tuesday night in Moda Center. The Thunder were jolted by the Trail Blazer Twosome and found themselves on the wrong end of a 114-94 licking, as Portland took a 2-0 lead in the teams’ best-of-seven first-round playoff series.

McCollum went 12-21 from the field, 3-7 from the three-point line for 33 points and Lillard was 10-21 and 4-8 for 29 points.

And the two Blazer starting guards lit the fuse on an explosive third quarter that saw the Trail Blazers blitz OKC 37-21.

“When you have two guys who can create their shots, who can create problems for the defense, it makes teammates around them better,” said Portland Coach Terry Stotts. “We kind of milked both of them there in the fourth quarter as far as pick and rolls. They complement each other. They have different styles of game even though they both can score. They’re both unique in what they can do.”

The Trail Blazers were fortunate to be tied at halftime after struggling through much of the first half, but the third quarter was a terrific defensive period for them, while McCollum and Lillard combined for 20 points, four assists, three steals and a blocked shot in the quarter.

The Blazers forced eight Thunder turnovers in the 12 minutes and turned them into 16 points.

Lillard was everywhere on the defensive end all night long, getting four defensive rebounds, three steals and two blocked shots while collecting just one foul and two turnovers.

Portland is not a team that forces a lot of turnovers but it got 16 from the Thunder and turned them into 23 points.

“It’s the preparation,:” Lillard said. “We talk about if a guy comes off a screen and we trap him, the weak side needs to be pulled over. If they throw it to the weak side, we need to be stunting for each other and playing physical.

“All those small things, when you’re in the right place and you’re doing the right things that you prepared for, a lot of times the ball ends up in your hands. … You’ve got your hands active like we’ve been talking about and they make a pass and just because your hand is where it needs to be, you deflect it. Just stuff like that.

“We’ve been really sharp in our preparation and going out there and executing. It’s not like we said, 'All right we’re going to come out here and try to get steals.' I just think we’ve been sharp. A lot of things have come for us in a positive way because of that.”

But Lillard, veteran that he is of these playoff series, knows not to get too carried away after just two home wins.

“I’m like happy about it but I really don’t care. So we’ve just got to maintain our focus, stay sharp in the things we’ve been sharp in and understand how well we played in the first game and the second game is not going to be good enough in the third game, especially on their home floor.

“We’ve got to keep our heads down and keep working.”

Portland once again had a huge edge in shooting from deep. The Trail Blazers made 40.6 percent of their threes and OKC managed just 17.9 percent. Russell Westbrook had 14 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds but made only five of his 20 shots, had six turnovers and was 1-6 from three.

And he took the loss personally.

“We’ll be all right,” Westbrook said. “Starting with myself. I’ve got to play better. Tonight we lost and I’m going to take full responsibility of that because of the way I played was unacceptable and I’m going to be better. I’m not worried one bit.”

McCollum was asked about the compatibility between he and Lillard in the Blazer backcourt.

“I think it’s the combination of a lot of things,” he said. “It’s stemming from our upbringing, how we were raised by our parents, what we’ve done to get to this point, both coming from small schools. I think we both had the same question marks. We’re both competitive, hungry and we both want to do whatever it takes to win.”

And Tuesday night, mission accomplished. Together.

Meyers Leonard: Meaningful minutes and "earning a standing ovation"

Meyers Leonard: Meaningful minutes and "earning a standing ovation"

CJ McCollum was heading to the free throw line with 3:31 remaining on the game clock.

At that moment, Meyers Leonard turned to the home crowd and yelled, “come on” with his hands in the air, urging the fans to get on their feet.

The Trail Blazers led 110-91 as the Moda Center crowd rose to their feet and the Blazers along with Leonard rose to the occasion.  

Portland defeated Oklahoma City in Game 2 on Tuesday night, 114-94 in what turned out to be a blowout for Portland, thus Blazers head coach Terry Stotts was able to unload his bench in garbage time.

But it wasn’t garbage time minutes for Leonard.   

Just like the media, the players, and the fans, the referees also know the bad blood between these two teams and in order to keep the peace, the officials were making sure to call any and all fouls.

Whether it was a charge call, a moving screen, or a blocking call, the whistles were being blown. In turn, that meant Blazers starting center Enes Kanter got into early foul trouble. Al-Farouq Aminu and Kanter both had three fouls by halftime.

When Kanter picked up his fourth foul early in the third that made way for Leonard.

“Because Enes picked up his fourth early, we got a few more minutes out of [Meyers] and I thought it was just a good time to have him in there… Good things were happening when he was on the court, so we kept him in,” Coach Stotts said postgame.

“I was happy for him. He brought some great energy,” McCollum said.

But, Leonard rose to the occasion in unexpected way:

On the defensive end.

He challenged Steven Adams down low and was also able to slow down the Thunder guards when he switched onto the smaller players.

“He got a couple of switches, moved his feet well, you know, challenged, got a block that didn’t go, that they called a goaltend, knocked down some jumpers, gave us good spacing, and energy,” McCollum said.

Yes, the Trail Blazers backup center didn’t get that block, even though it looked good, but he did finish the game with the best plus/minus of any bench player for the game with a +17.

In his 14 minutes played, he scored five points and pulled down four rebounds.  

“I just played as hard as I could and tried to set screens, go after rebounds and be prepared to shoot, which is the thing I didn’t actually do that well,” Leonard said with a perplexed look.

“I was 2-for-4, but I feel like I should make everyone of them,” Leonard added.

Immediately after the final buzzer sounded, Kanter jumped on Leonard’s back to celebrate the win and Leonard’s performance.

That’s the thing about this team; they care about each other and are happy for their teammates success.

“He’s a guy who is always, you know, jacked up, and a guy who can get the crowd really involved,” McCollum said.

As always for any bench player with inconsistent minutes, staying ready is key.

“My focus and mindset has been to just be ready,” Leonard said. “I’m not sure if I’m going to go in, I’m not sure when I’m gonna go in, but I can tell you one thing -- I’m gonna go in there and I’m gonna play friggin’ hard and it felt good to be out there contributing and now we’re up 2-0.”

When Leonard checked back into the game at the 9:36 mark of the fourth quarter for Zach Collins, the Moda Center crowd gave Leonard a loud ovation.

As Rip City fans well know, the fan base has been up and down when it comes to Meyers.

“I’ll be honest I did see a tweet about that, just talking about, I guess, that I had a quote-unquote earned a standing ovation,” Leonard said.

“Whatever that means, it felt good. I’m always gonna give it my all, I can guarantee you guys that... Like I said, it felt good to be out there, playing meaningful minutes, helping us win a playoff game,” Leonard added.

The Trail Blazers now go up 2-0 in the best of seven series. This is the first time Portland has taken a 2-0 advantage since the First Round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs. The Blazers beat Houston in that series, 4-2.

This series now shifts to OKC and as everyone knows every possession counts in the postseason or as Meyers put it:

“The playoffs is possession basketball.”

Leonard also says he will be ready for extra possessions if they come his way.

An update on Enes Kanter's hand injury

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USATI

An update on Enes Kanter's hand injury

During the first half of Game 2 of the Trail Blazers game vs. the Oklahoma City Thunder, starting center Enes Kanter hurt his right hand on the defensive end of the floor. The call resulted in a foul and Kanter could be seen shaking his hand out, in obvious discomfort as he prepared to shoot the free throws. Kanter battled foul trouble thoughout the game as well, but continued to play through the pain. 

After the game, Kanter gave a brief update on the injury:

More to come from Insider Dwight Jaynes and Reporter Jamie Hudson on Kanter and the rest of the team as the series moves to OKC for a Friday night game. 

Rapid Reaction: 3 Quick Takeaways from the Trail Blazers win over the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 2

Rapid Reaction: 3 Quick Takeaways from the Trail Blazers win over the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 2

The Trail Blazers and Thunder have shown time and time again that these two teams do not like each other. The playoffs have heightened that dislike.

Whether it was Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook getting into a friendly shoving match after Westerbrook fell to the floor late in the second quarter or big men Zach Collins and Markieff Morris being hit with offsetting technicals, there’s no doubt the physical play is here to stay.

Game 2 was as much of a battle as Game 1 and it was an exciting one at that. OKC led for a majority of the first half, but after Lillard scored 12 points in the second quarter and McCollum hit a three-pointer at the buzzer to end the first half, the Blazers and Thunder were all tied at 54.

Portland’s third quarter defense was the turning point in the game. The Blazers held the Thunder to just 21 points in the quarter and they never looked back. Portland takes Game 2, 114-94.

The Trail Blazers now go up a 2-0 as the best of seven-series shifts to Oklahoma City.

Final Box Score: Trail Blazers 114, Thunder 94

Here are some quick thoughts from the Blazers Game 2 victory:

1. A healthy dose of Adams to start

The Thunder started the game by getting Steven Adams involved. Adams got a lot of touches and went right at Enes Kanter. The Blazers starting center picked up two quick fouls midway through the first quarter.

In his first nine minutes of play, Adams went 3-of-4 from the field to score six points. Kanter's early foul trouble seemed to affect his offensive game. Kanter was not much of a factor in the Blazers scoring in Game 2.  

2. Schroder stuck on Lillard

Backup point guard Dennis Schroder’s assignment for Game 2 was simple:

Make it as tough as humanly possible for Lillard to even sniff the ball.

Schroder was stuck on Lillard like glue. He had a hand or arm on Lillard at all times. The Blazers starting point guard had a hard time getting shots up early on with the pesky Schorder guarding him. Lillard went 2-of-5 and 0-of-2 from three in his first 12 minutes of action.

However, when Lillard returned to the game in the second quarter, it was apparent he was determined to get off shots no matter how difficult they were. Lillard brought the house down with two very contested threes in the second quarter.

With so much focus on Lillard that made way for CJ McCollum.

McCollum was up for the challenge. He carried the scoring load for much of the game. At the end of the third, he had 25 points on 9-of-17 shooting.  

3. Fouls a plenty

Just like the media and fans, the referees also know the bad blood between these two teams.

In a span of about 15 seconds in the first quarter three fouls were called. Whether it was a charge call, a moving screen, or a blocking call, the whistles were being blown.

At the 2:54 mark of the second quarter, Al-Farouq Aminu picked up his third foul.  At halftime, the Blazers had committed 15 personal fouls. The Thunder had 14 fouls at the break.  Aminu and Kanter both had three fouls by halftime.

Despite foul trouble, the Blazers turned it up on the defensive end in the third quarter. Portland clamped down on defense to start the second half and that was what turned the game around for the Blazers.

Kanter picked up his fourth foul early in the third quarter, which gave an opportunity to Meyers Leonard. Leonard rose to the occasion, guarding Adams and even slowing doing guards when needed. Leonard finished the game with the best plus/minus of any bench player for the Blazers.  

NEXT UP: The Trail Blazers and Thunder will tip-off Game 3 on Friday night at 6:30pm pacific time. You can catch the game on NBC Sports Northwest and on the MyTeams App. Our pregame coverage starts at 5:30pm.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your Blazers and stream the games easily on your device.

Game 2: Everything you need to know from pregame as Trail Blazers prep for Oklahoma City Thunder

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Game 2: Everything you need to know from pregame as Trail Blazers prep for Oklahoma City Thunder

Tonight, the Trail Blazers are looking to go up 2-0 on the Oklahoma City Thunder in the best of seven series. Portland snapped a 10-game playoff-losing streak following a 104-99 victory over OKC on Sunday in Game 1.

Before Game 2, Blazers head coach Terry Stotts and Thunder head coach Billy Donovan addressed the media.

Coach Stotts said everyone is healthy and ready to go.

He also discussed the Thunder taking so many three-pointers on Sunday.

“They had 33 threes, by our count they had 10 uncontested. So, as long as we are contesting their threes, that’s what we want to do. Our biggest concern is taking away the uncontested threes.  Stotts said.

Hear from Coach Stotts right here:

Coach Donovan was also asked about their three-point shooting. The Thunder went 5-of-33 from behind the arc in Game 1.

“As teams get more familiar with one another, getting open shots and getting good shots can be really hard to come by… As long as they’re good shots, we’ve got to shoot the ball with confidence and take the ones we are capable of making,” Donovan said.

Paul George went 4-of-15 from long distance, but Coach Donovan still wants him to keeping shooting from deep.

“I want him to get as many threes as he can get,” Donovan added.  

Hear from Coach Donovan right here:

Game 2 of Portland Trail Blazers vs. OKC Thunder: How and Where to Watch

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Game 2 of Portland Trail Blazers vs. OKC Thunder: How and Where to Watch

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your Blazers and stream the games easily on your device.

The Trail Blazers snapped a 10-game playoff-losing streak following a 104-99 victory over the Thunder on Sunday in Game 1. The Blazers said it "felt great" to get the win, but they know it was just one game and a series can change quickly.  

The Trail Blazers’ Game 1 win was a team effort just as they've been doing since Jusuf Nurkic went down with a season-ending injury. Portland was in control when Damian Lillard was playing in rhythm, which is to be expected. Lillard's 14 points in the fourth quarter helped the Blazers hold of OKC. For the Thunder, Paul George's (left shoulder) health could very well determine their success in the series.  

As for Game 2 adjustments, Portland is looking to execute better and cut down on turnovers.


GAME DETAILS

Where to Watch: NBC Sports Northwest

Where to Watch on the go: Stream the game live on the new MyTeams App

Tip-Off Time: 7:30 p.m. 

Point spread: Portland -2

NBCS NW Coverage: Blazers Outsiders Pregame Show (4:00 p.m.), Blazers Outsiders Postgame Show (immediately after the postgame show). 

Radio: 620AM Rip City Radio

 

INJURY UPDATES

For the Trail Blazers, Jusuf Nurkic (left leg) is out for Tuesday's Game 2 vs. OKC.

For the Thunder, Andre Roberson (left patellar) and Hamidou Diallo (right elbow) are out.
 


QUICK LINKS

Dwight Jaynes: 3-point shooting -- for and against -- helps Trail Blazers snap playoff streak

Jamie Hudson: Enes Kanter was the real MVP of Game 1, according to Damian Lillard

Mike Richman: With trash talk and shot making, CJ McCollum sets the tone for a hard fought series

VIDEO: Blazers end postseason drought, have greater goals in mind

VIDEO: Damian Lillard took some hard falls in Game 1



Download the brand new MyTeams app today - This is the app for everything Blazers: games, highlights, articles, podcasts and more from your NBC Sports Northwest Blazers team.

Look out Blazers, Paul George says "shoulder's good"

Look out Blazers, Paul George says "shoulder's good"

The Oklahoma City Thunder practice had ended in Moda Center Monday and the media was allowed into the bowl to prepare for postpractice interviews.

But while some players had retired to the sidelines to rest or to have a fun contest made up of long shots while sitting on the team’s sideline chairs, Paul George continued to put up three-point shots.

After an 8-24 shooting night that included a 4-15 game from beyond the three-point line, George wanted to get some shots up. And see them going in.

What I saw was a lot of shots going in – which is what you usually see when you watch NBA players shooting against air in practice.

Overall, the Thunder was only 5-33 from three-point range Sunday and so George was actually much better than the rest of his team, which went 1-18 from behind the stripe.

“We didn’t make shots and it cost us,” George said. “And I’ll take a lot of that, with all the good looks I had. That’s what today was for – to get better rhythm, better flow.”

George missed his team’s final regular-season game with a sore right shoulder. He said that he went four days without any shooting practice prior to the Sunday matchup.

And Monday, he said all is well with the shoulder.

“Shoulder’s good,” he said. “Pain-free.”

He’s quite obviously being very careful with it. Over the last two days he could have supplied a shave-ice stand on Waikiki with all the frozen water he’s used. He had big bags of ice on it Sunday during and after the game and then after practice was wearing bags strapped to the shoulder Monday.

There is no doubt he is critical to the Thunder’s success.

He was a legitimate candidate for the league’s MVP award until late in the season when his offensive output slipped a little, perhaps because of the shoulder. But he’s also an All-Defensive Team caliber of player and was a thorn in Portland’s side at both ends of the court during the four meetings between the teams this season.

George averaged 38 points per game vs. the Trail Blazers, hitting 45.9 percent of his three-pointers and 45.2 percent of his shots overall. He was a one-man wrecking crew.

So if he’s healthy – and he says he is – there is no reason to think he isn’t going to bring a big game against Portland Tuesday night in Game 2. And he says he’s unconcerned about any contact he might have on the defensive end further injuring the shoulder.

“Not anymore,” he said. “It’s well enough now to throw out any injury problems.

“There are going to be some shots that go in and out, shots that don’t fall, I had a good day of preparing today, so I feel good about it.”

How much did it help to get a good practice in?

“Really helped. Really helped,” he said. “I’m able to get in the gym, able to put the ball on the floor, see the ball go in, shoot the ball. I think just everybody – we got good work in today.”

Like most of the Oklahoma City contingent, George believes that his team played well Sunday, it just didn’t shoot well. No major adjustments are necessary.

“We’ve got the game plan,” he said. “We’re going to go out and deliver in Game 2.

“We feel confident and we’re in a great place.”